GASTONIA, N.C. — A North Carolina woman is bringing to the screen a little known part of history.
In 2020, Ashleigh Gilliam wrote a screenplay for a short film about three African-American women who were trailblazers in baseball: Toni Stone, Connie Morgan and Mamie Johnson.
Her short "Toni. Mamie. Connie." highlights the challenges they faced.
Before 1947, baseball was a segregated sport, according to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
“The character I played Mamie Johnson. She was not able to play for the All American [Girls Professional Baseball League] in the '40s and '50s because of her skin color,” Gilliam said.
The trio played with men in the Negro Leagues. The three women played for the Indianapolis Clowns. Stone also played for the San Francisco Sea Lions, New Orleans Black Pelicans, the New Orleans Creoles and the Kansas City Monarchs, according to Major League Baseball.
Gilliam became curious about the women trailblazers after watching the movie "A League of Their Own," which centers on the All American Girls Professional Baseball League.
A scene in the movie shows a Black woman returning a ball to a player of the league during a game. This made Gilliam wonder about the reason Black players are noticeably absent in the film and started investigating.
“Once I found out these three ladies were people or figures I had not heard at 29 years old, I mean I couldn’t think of any better way to give them that recognition than tell their stories,” Gilliam said.
Last year, Gilliam acted in the short and directed it with the support of assistant directors Samantha Hawkins and Monica Cooper.
It was shot at a softball field in Belmont Abbey College and Gilliam’s grandmother’s house in Gastonia.
“It’s also a good way to showcase my home and where I grew up in,” Gilliam said.
Gilliam minored in theater arts at UNC-Chapel Hill. She’s acted before but this is her first screenplay.
She hopes one day she can combine acting and screenwriting into a job.
“I have a voice that needs to be heard,” Gilliam said.
With "Toni. Mamie. Connie." she wanted to shed light on history for her generation and her children’s generation.
“Just to be able to show that they can do anything they put their minds to,” Gilliam said.
In the fall, Gilliam held a premiere of her eight-minute film.
She’s now submitted it to be considered for awards in more than 10 film festivals around the country.
In North Carolina, she submitted it to the North Carolina Film Festival, which takes place this summer. In addition, she submitted it to the Raleigh Film and Art festival, which will happen in the fall.
The short will be available for streaming later this year.